I went through my posters while prepping for a move, and somehow that got me to thinking about all the posters I’ve ever owned. Nowadays they tend to have some connection to me personally, whether they be advertisement for things I’ve worked on or events I’ve attended. They’re more mementos than self-extensions. Gone are the Italian horror movie promos, Zappa on the shitter, and spliff-lidded Marley swathed in smoke. Pushpin pricks are history, smoothed and flattened by glass.
Then SHE came to me, a memory on the prowl. Heather fucking Thomas. Man. Crawling from a hot tub, thumb hooked into a pink-bikini bottom, flashing a hint of hip. She was my generation’s Farrah Fawcett, since Farrah was older than my mom, ew. Heather had maybe a decade on me (maybe more), a blonde goddess beyond the awkward teenage stage. Yet for the life of me I couldn’t understand what she was doing on my bedroom wall.
Who bought me that poster? I don’t think I asked for it. It seemed to just appear one day. Previously my walls were all about “Theatre of Pain”-garbed (manly pinks and purples) Motley Crue, their fists outstretched in metal unity, or a raygun-wielding Eddie advising me not to waste my time always searching for those wasted years. I also had a large “Rocky Horror Picture Show” checklist, should I find myself in simultaneous possession of fishnet stockings and toast.
And then there was Heather. I couldn’t get a girl in my Bioscience class to return my calls, and I once overheard a classmate describe me as “cute but weird,” but Heather, that SoCal beach-girl blueprint, wore everpresent adoration. She smiled beatifically while I read Mad magazine, unlocking Dick DeBartolo’s comic rhythms. She worked her sweet-naughty shtick as I tapped out novellas to “Red Barchetta.” I shared a room with the type of girl who did not, could not, would never, ever register in my universe.
Truthfully, I think what happens is that once you reach the age of 12, if you don’t have a girly poster on your wall, your parents freak out — even the mother who had to hide that rented copy of “Purple Rain,” lest you come home early from school to review the parts you “missed.” It’s unnatural. Relatives begin to worry: “Vickie, I passed your son’s bedroom and saw no sign of a supermodel in a porkpie hat and a clinging white shirt unbuttoned to her navel.” City councils debate your internal wiring. At some point the president gets involved. A letter arrives at your house with a check for ten dollars and instructions. “Iron Maiden’s cool and all, but what your boy needs is spank material,” it reads. “Kind regards, Ronald Reagan.”
And then suddenly, Heather, bronzed, gleaming Heather. The following year: swimsuit calendar. Someone named Kathy Smith entered my life — her I didn’t mind because she seemed so serious about exercise. Then: a model of undetermined age — she could have been 40, she could have been 25, a runaway from the House of Judith Light — kneeling in the Pacific Ocean, luring suckers to their watery dooms with Tecate. By the time you’re 15, you’re swimming in bursting décolletage, wondering what happened to that poster of the “Synchronicity”-era Police, before your life became the loneliest Bud Light commercial of all time.
It’s strange, in retrospect, to consider that space a canvas upon which to build the young You. Hey, I’m not just a pussy who cries when the once-blind flower girl recognizes the Tramp at the end of “City Lights”; I’m also a confident 13-year-old beer-swilling fuck machine. It felt so weird. Not that I minded being surrounded by gorgeous women frozen into semi-provocative positions, smiling nowhere forever. I just never felt like the kind of kid who lined creation with semi-centerfolds. Was it some peculiar subconscious need to broadcast my heterosexuality, to assure friends and family I was all right: “Oh, thank God he appreciates a killer set of tits”? That’s about as meaningful as me being left-handed, you know: how nice, ho hum, who cares. Or maybe I could assure myself I was less “weird” —more grown-up, maybe — for having cosmetically shunned the passions I felt made me inaccessible: the Mad magazines, the devotion to writing, the cartooning, the encyclopedias, the love for old or fucked-up flicks. Boys with girly posters can’t be all bad, right? Boys with girly posters were normal.
I’m proud to admit I’ve long since re-embraced the me that made me “me.” If Heather Thomas exists within reach of this piece, I hope she understands, and I hope she’s as happy as she seemed in that sauna.